Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party sits with other ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government during a Knesset session, November 23.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev said on Wednesday that Yisrael Beytenu is obligated to support controversial legislation on mikva access, and independent, Orthodox conversion courts, two bills which are designed to circumvent recent rulings of the High Court of Justice.
At the same time, Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer declined to say whether or not his party would support the bill on conversion which UTJ lawmakers have promised to introduce in the new Knesset session.
In March, a law was proposed by UTJ to ban the Reform and Conservative Movements from using public mikvas, following a decision earlier this year by the Supreme Court which ruled that this policy, currently in place, is illegal.
In late March, the High Court also gave de facto recognition to private, Orthodox conversions, leading senior UTJ MKs Moshe Gafni and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to promise that they would introduce legislation to circumvent this ruling as well.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Maklev said that there was no question Yisrael Beytenu would have to support the mikva and conversion bills under the terms of their coalition agreement, as well as other legislation on income support for full time yeshiva students and a proposed law to tighten the rabbinate monopoly on kashrut supervision.
“Unequivocally yes, they will have to support these bills,” said Maklev, underlining UTJ’s position that the clause in its own coalition agreement requiring the status quo on religion and state to be preserved requires other coalition members to support legislation if the status quo is changed by, for instance, a High Court ruling.
Forer however told the Post that since the law on conversion has not yet been introduced to the coalition he could not comment on whether or not Yisrael Beytenu would support it, and declined to say whether or not his party was obligated to support such a bill under the terms of the agreement signed with Likud on Wednesday.
“I haven’t seen legislation on this issue so I can’t speak about it,” the MK told the Post.
“The clause on religion and state issues is very clear. The status quo will be protected, and we are obligated to legislative processes that have already begun, but I can’t commit on something which we are not aware of yet.”
The wording of the actual coalition agreement between Yisrael Beytenu and Likud appears to support Forer’s reading over Maklev’s, since it states explicitly that laws on religion and state will not be advanced by any party unless it has the approval of all coalition partners.
The Yisrael Beytenu-Likud agreement makes an exception for proposed legislation mentioned in the coalition deals between Likud and the other coalition members, saying that such legislation must be supported by Yisrael Beytenu, but Gafni and Litzman’s conversion bill has yet to be introduced to the Knesset.
Forer also defended his party’s concession not to advance legislation on religion and state without the consent of the haredi parties and the rest of the coalition, saying that the party stood by its principles and would continue to try and advance them within the constraints of the coalition.
“Our agenda hasn’t changed, it’s totally clear to us we haven't got 100 percent of what we wanted in our agreement, but in order to get achievements to solve the pension problems of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, and to get achievements on defense issues, we agreed to negotiate and accept the principles of the coalition.
“We will still try to convince our friends in the coalition of our positions, and I also think that there are many issues which we can find solutions for, such as creating more [state] conversion courts. We will not abandon our agenda.”
The Israel Democracy Institute was however critical of Yisrael Beytenu for conceding on religion and state issues to the haredi parties.
“They are abandoning issues that are central to our lives in Israel,” said Sheleg, head of IDI's Religion and State program.
"Yisrael Beiteinu's concessions further prove the problematic situation in which ultra-Orthodox parties have been given complete veto power in the religious realm," added Sheleg. "This is a grave and problematic situation from a democratic perspective.